Review: Fair Play by Tove Jansson

WSOY, 1990

Fair Play is the type of love story that is rarely told, a revelatory depiction of contentment, hard-won and exhilarating.

Mari is a writer and Jonna is an artist, and they live at opposite ends of a big apartment building, their studios connected by a long attic passageway. They have argued, worked, and laughed together for decades. Yet they’ve never really stopped taking each other by surprise. Fair Play shows us Mari and Jona’s intertwined lives as they watch Fassbinder films and Westerns, critique each other’s work, spend time on a solitary island (recognizable to readers of Jansson’s The Summer Book), travel through the American Southwest, and turn life into nothing less than art.

Inspired by the lovely Madame Bibi Lophile’s review on Fair Play, I decided that it would be my fourth book in my Tove100 challenge. I’ve now completed the challenge, but I might continue with Jansson’s works because they are amazing. However, let’s get back to Fair Play:

Fair Play is a short story collection that features two women, Jonna and Mari, their relationship, travels, work and inspiration. They live at the opposite sides of a building, but their studios are connected by an attic passageway so that they can pop in and out of each others lives. Both women are dedicated artists, although with varying interests and different ways of approaching work. The collection follows their lives through short glimpses: watching B-class westerns, spending summer months on an island, traveling abroad and visiting friends. The relationship of the two women is one of trust and balance, with the charm that age brings to a long-term relationship.

First of all, I was almost astonished how intimate the whole short story collection felt. The two women reminded me so much of what I’d read about Jansson and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä, that it was almost impossible not to see the similarities between their lives and those on the pages of Fair Play. I adore Jansson’s style of writing and how she builds the atmosphere with words, creating a calm environment with occasional fireworks. It is a subtle, intricate style that manages to affect the reader with its quietness. However, I must admit that this collection was not my favourite one. I felt that the sudden changes of scenery and the collection as a whole did not support itself as well as some of her other books. I guess I was hoping that there had been more to the book, or that there would have been a more prominent structure to the whole collection. Nevertheless, I still recommend Fair Play to readers who’d like to be acquainted with Tove Jansson’s adult fiction and enjoy reading short story collections.


4 thoughts on “Review: Fair Play by Tove Jansson

  1. Lovely review! The collection is elliptical, and as you say, it can feel like there should be more there. It’s remarkable how Jansson creates such intimacy in such few words.

    This review has made me so excited to read more by Jansson (deadlines mean I haven’t read The Summer Book yet but in 4 days I’ll have a reprieve and I know exactly which book I’ll be reading first 😉 )

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